Blog by Steve Laug
I just finished reading Our Family Business by Mary Dunhill (pictured to the left). The book is written in the style of personal reminiscences of the author. It is quite engaging. She starts with her memories of the family from birth and moves through the various business developments as they happened and as she saw them in her growing up years. She gives a brief glimpse at the history of the Dunhill family and their settlement and house building efforts that ran parallel to the family business. It is an inside glimpse of the making of the Dunhill business groups and the people and family behind the development.
After reading the book I believe that the words written on the fly-leaf of the cover summarize the book really well: “At the age of seventeen Mary Dunhill joined her father’s pipe making and tobacco business, starting at the bottom as an assistant cashier. 38 years later she became the chairman of the Dunhill group of companies, a job she held through fourteen years of international expansion. Her book demonstrates the demands that a professional career make on a woman as well as the skill that women can bring to the problems of management. Yet this is more than a career story, more than a history of an enterprise unlikely to be rivalled in the economic conditions of today. It is a candid portrait of the Dunhill family, of their beginnings as harness makers and of the very different personalities that went into the building of a rare quality and character.”
Like most books or reminiscence the book does not have a table of contents. There are no simple headings on the chapters to give the reader an idea of the content of that chapter. It is written in a flowing style that proceeds from the early years to the later years of the writer. It is as if the reader is taken inside the head of the writer and given an intimate glimpse of her life. Mary had done a masterful job in being transparent about what she when through in a way that I have seldom seen in personalities of this ilk.
To help potential readers make a decision on whether to purchase and read the book, I have summarized the content of each chapter below.
Chapter 1 – pages 9-13 – Mary’s birth into the Dunhill family in Edwardian London. The development of her father’s move into the tobacco business is introduced. The opening of the shop in Jermyn and Duke Street stocked with pipes, tobaccos and cigars.
Chapter 2 – pages 14-21 –The early history of the Dunhill family and the related trades and businesses they engaged in. The development of the Dunhill Motorities. The chapter ends with a description of the early work of Mary’s father prior to opening his tobacco shop.
Chapter 3 – pages 22-29 –The life of Mary’s family in Harrow before the WWI. The hard times of the tobacco business on Duke Street. Her father began to make a name as a blender of the My Mixture blends. She also introduces the reader to her mother.
Chapter 4 – pages 30-38 – The life in the new house in Woodlands with a look at her school and social events. She met Rex, the man she married forty years later. Inserted into this chapter are a collection of family photos. Each is labelled and gives a clear picture of life in those times.
Chapter 5 – pages 39-46 – The development of the Dunhill pipe and the rise of that pipe to fill the need for pipes that did justice to Alfred’s blends of tobacco. A brief history of briar pipes and the way Dunhill pipes were made and the number of pipe makers employed to meet the demand.
Chapter 6 – pages 47-54 – The prosperity of the Dunhill’s is explored and their move into a life of maids, cooks and butlers is described.
Chapter 7 – pages 55-61 –Mary’s life in boarding school and how it led her to leave school and enter the family business as a junior clerk.
Chapter 8 – pages 62-72 – Her work at the Notting Hill Gate factory. Notting Hill factory turned out several thousand Dunhill pipes per week. The history of the Dunhill lighter is introduced toward the end of the chapter.
Chapter 9 – pages 73-83 – Another move to another house – the “Barn” is described and detailed. Mary explains the start of her own small cosmetics business that introduced her to customer service and business management (later it became a lucrative part of the Dunhill label).
Chapter 10 – pages 84-92 – A second photo section. The details of business development in US, Canada, France and England are mentioned and some of the famous clients of Dunhill products. The chapter ends with the birth of her first daughter, Kay.
Chapter 11 – pages 93-102 – Beginning with the birth of her second daughter, Tessa and exploring the development of the Dunhill Company during Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the war years. She describes the bomb damage to the Jermyn Street frontage of the Duke Street shop and the destruction of much stock. Reflections on how they survived the war years.
Chapter 12 – pages 103-109 – Post war growth of the Dunhill Company. The global developments of the business are detailed. The changes in the family are also noted with the deaths of many of the older Dunhill family members of Mary’s first husband Geoffrey.
Chapter 13 – pages 110-119 – Mary’s growing involvement in the work of the Board. Her responsibility of management of the struggles of the Company in the late 50s is detailed. Her line of Mary Dunhill cosmetics had expanded across the US. The chapter ends with her marriage to Rex.
Chapter 14 – pages 120-126 – Mary’s role as Chairman of the main Dunhill board beginning in 1961. This chapter details her role on the board and the changes and developments that occurred in the early years.
Chapter 15 – pages 127-133 – The Far East marketing of the Company with significant development in the Japanese Market added to a Far East boom period. The company was also in a boom in Europe and the US. As Dunhill continues to develop, Mary’s daughter Tessa killed herself in hospital.
Chapter 16 – pages 134-140 – Summarizes the business of the Dunhill Company from 1912 through 1975 when her nephew, Richard took over the company – pipes, tobacco, lighters and accessories, jewellery, leather goods, watches, writing instruments. A diversified portfolio of products was sold.
Chapter 17 – pages 141-146 – Summarizes some of the lessons learned in her life in the family business. She describes the happiness that she experienced in leading the company during its growth years.
This book is autobiographical in nature but at the same time given the length of Mary Dunhill’s involvement in the family business it gives an intimate picture of the history of the Dunhill Company with all of its constituent parts. The inner workings of the company and the development of the tobacco blending and later pipe making aspects are rich with history for the pipeman who loves to understand the ins and outs of his/her hobby. Well worth the read. The style and manner of the writing is clear, concise and also full of revelations about Mary’s own feelings and struggles both in life and as the head of a large company.